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Let’s not cave in to the pressures of diet industry

Thin is “ideal,” and more body fat and weight gain are always “bad.”

Everybody agrees those statements are true. But are they?

Author and registered dietitian Christy Harrison dispels those myths in her book “Anti-Diet” and shares extensive research on the roots of diet culture to show us how we got to today — biased against fat. Spoiler-alert: It was not about health.

For much of human history, higher weights were associated with robust health and beauty, and thinness was equated with poverty, illness and death.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that fatness was observed as a trait often seen in “savage” people, making higher weight a negative attribute. Women were also believed to be at greater “risk” of fatness, a sign of evolutionary “inferiority.” Thus, anti-fatness beliefs were born that had nothing to do with health.

Regardless, the Victorian era brought a preference for hour-glass-shaped women, a visible sign that their husbands had the money to keep them well fed and away from work. Actress Lillian Russell, whose body mass index would have placed in her the “obese” category, was admired for this shape.

But that changed in 1890, when the preference for thin women emerged with the creation of the Gibson Girl, a pen-and-ink drawing, not even a real woman. She was young, white, wealthy, hourglass shaped, impossibly thin and a bit athletic to show that women can do things like tennis and croquet.

Marketers targeted women hoping to achieve that “ideal” look, offering weight-loss products, compression garments, diet pills containing arsenic, industrial toxins, thyroid extract and even tapeworms, according to Amy Ferrell, author of “Fat Shame.”

In the 1920s, ideals for women’s bodies trimmed further with Coco Chanel’s straight and slim flapper dresses. Women had to bind their breasts and restrict their food intake to fit into the dresses. This ushered in products like scales, laxatives and “reducing soaps” that claimed to wash away fat.

Next came the women’s suffrage movement, with opponents portraying suffragists as fat and “uncivilized” to dissuade women from joining. Early feminists played into anti-fatness by fighting back against this messaging by portraying women’s right’s activists as “civilized” and “evolved,” with images of thin, white women. Thus, slimness was related to civility and beauty.

All that changed in the early 1900s. From a strong cultural bias against fat came an insistence on weight loss advice. Some doctors were irritated with these requests, seeing them as problems of vanity, not health. But they found the overwhelming public demand difficult to refuse, and scales became common in doctors’ offices.

Doctors were further influenced by life and health insurance companies, which at the beginning of the 20th century began using the BMI, the height- to-weight ratio, to categorize people as “normal weight,” “overweight” and “underweight” to determine premiums.

While some preliminary data found “overweight” to be less healthy, a 2013 research study in the Journal of American Medical Association found “overweight” as the BMI group with the lowest mortality. Despite this flaw (and many others, including that BMI was never intended as a medical instrument), the BMI is still used to assess health.

Next came World War I and food shortages. Self-discipline with food was expected, and fatness was seen as a moral failure. This set the market for weight loss products ablaze: †he 1920s encouraged smoking and fasting for weight loss. The 1930s introduced diets and pills, gyms and weird gadgets like vibrating belts. The 1940s brought amphetamines for weight loss, while calisthenics and bariatric surgery emerged in the 1950s.

The 1960s brought more diet pills (despite doctors warning against them back in 1943), Overeaters Anonymous, Weight Watchers and Twiggy, the 16-year-old British model who set another impossible standard for the “ideal” woman. From 1970 through the 1990s the market for dieting grew rapidly and now included men, people of color and the elderly.

By June 1992 the narrative shifted when a National Institutes of Health panel of weight-science experts concluded that diets don’t work and that most people who’ve intentionally lost weight regain most or all of it within five years. And a 1995 Washington Post article titled “Losing the Weight Battle” reported that “a decade of dieting mania has actually made people fatter.”

Yet the diet industry flourished. In the mid-1990s the number of dieters skyrocketed, with 44% of women reporting they were trying to lose weight, though 37% of those women were in the “normal” range of BMI.

Then in 1998, approximately 29 million Americans became “overweight” overnight without gaining a single pound. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to lower the cutoff for “normal” weight BMI from 27.8 to 25 to follow World Health Organization guidelines. The WHO report was primarily written by the International Obesity Task Force, which was funded largely by two pharmaceutical companies that make weight-loss drugs, according to “Fat Politics” author J. Eric Oliver. Many “obesity” experts had ties to drug and weight loss companies, including the chair of the NIH panel, Xavier Pi-Sunyer, reports Oliver.

Weight loss became massively profitable and still is. The U.S. weight loss industry reached a record $78 billion in 2019, according to BusinessWire.com.

So you might be thinking, “All this history is enlightening Tanya, but why does it matter?”

Because despite what we’ve learned we’re still stuck in our “thinner is better” beliefs. Because our daughters are searching “healthy eating” on TikTok and following how-to guides to disordered eating to fit the “ideal” body size.

Because you can shop at TJ Maxx today and still buy ridiculous vibrating belts promising to “melt away your fat.” Because we still seek diets like Noom, a “mobile weight-loss company” with revenues over $400 million dollars in 2020. Because we still equate our self-worth, health and beauty to our body size. Sigh. And because we can learn from history and change.

Insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting different results, Albert Einstein said. It’s time to stop this madness and radically shift from weight to a whole person-centered approach to health and well-being. Be a rebel.

To your happiness and health,

-Tanya

Here’s one Thanksgiving ‘tradition’ you can drop

Every body deserves a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

But as a nutrition student back in 2012, I would have found that statement reckless, disregarding the “epidemic” of weight/health challenges facing our country.

That year my parents traveled from Maryland to Denver to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with me and my family. While I swung kettlebells and climbed revolving stairs at 24 Hour Fitness, Mom and Dad went for a stroll around the neighborhood. While I ate a “lighter” lunch to “earn” and “burn” the calories I would consume, they ate their regular meals.

To me healthy meant thin, low body fat. Though far leaner in my mid-40s than I’d been in my 20s, I still didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. All I saw were my perceived flaws: the cellulite, my furrowed forehead and a roundness to my female belly that I believed wasn’t flat enough.

I cooked my family a “clean” holiday meal, removing ingredients that my nutrition books touted as “bad” — the marshmallows in my husband’s favorite sweet potato casserole, the gluten in my dad’s famous sausage stuffing.

But I wasn’t done subjecting my parents to my righteous rules of nutrition perfection: For a class project they agreed to track their food so I could scrutinize their supposed nutritional flagrancies and offer upgrades promising “better” health. Bless their hearts.

Looking back now, I see that neither my parents’ nutrition nor health needed fixing. The real flaw? My misguided belief in diet culture, disguised as wellness, and its simplistic, one-dimensional definition of health: that a thin body is ideal. When we expose the origin of this false depiction of health and redefine it, every body can enjoy holiday favorites, no “earning” or “burning” of food required.

Weight does not equal health

“You’ve been lied to about the relationship between weight and health so that you’ll perpetually try to change your weight,” say Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, authors of “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”

The lie is driven by what the Nagoski sisters call the Bikini Industrial Complex, the “$100 billion cluster of businesses that profit by setting an unachievable ‘aspirational ideal,’ convincing us that we can and should — indeed, we must — conform with the ideal, and then selling us ineffective but plausible strategies for achieving that ideal.”

This false and simplistic definition of “wellness” can lead to lifelong weight worry and make it difficult to feel good in our bodies. It’s a chronic stressor.

Food psychologist Paul Rozin concurs. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, registered dietitians and authors of “Intuitive Eating,” say that in his 1999 research study “Rozin was way ahead of his time and concluded that the negative impact of worry and stress over healthy eating may have a more profound effect on health than the actual food consumed.”

Furthermore, Rozin’s research showed that while Americans have the most food worry and least food pleasure, the French were found to have the exact opposite, plus a longer life expectancy. Consider some mainstays of the French diet: bread, brie, creme brûlée — foods containing the “forbidden” ingredients my nutrition books said were “unhealthy.”

Yes, certainly nutrition has a role in your health and in preventing chronic disease, but your health is impacted by far more factors than what you eat and how you move. According to research in author Christy Harrison’s book “Anti-Diet,” “eating and physical activity combined account for only about 10 percent of population health outcomes. Other health-related behaviors account for only another 20 percent.” If you do the math, we have some individual or societal control over only 30% of our health.

The complexity of ‘health’

Other important factors are financial and social status, healthy childhood development, social environments, personal coping skills, traumatic experiences, weight stigma, access to health services, gender, race, physical environment, education and literacy, food and job security, and genetics.

And positive, satisfying relationships of any kind. The Nagoski sisters found that relationship quality was a “better predictor of health than smoking, and smoking is among the strongest predictors of ill health.”

This holiday season, instead of fretting over the marshmallows in your husband’s childhood favorite sweet potato casserole or your father’s famous sausage stuffing, consider taking a gentle nutrition approach to healthy eating.

Remove weight hate from your holiday plate.

(Originally published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, November 25, 2020).

Escape from the body hate diet cycle

Do you or someone you love struggle with healthy eating and/or suffer from body dissatisfaction?

If you said yes, it’s absolutely not your fault. It’s diet culture’s.

Let’s break down two major drivers of these challenges:

  1. You compare your body to health and fitness culture’s perfectionist and unrealistic body ideals.
  2. You’re stuck in “diet culture” (which created these body ideals) that profits off selling you the latest greatest eating plan, shakes, programs to maintain or “fix” your body, under the guise of wellness.


This can lead you to a lifetime of feeling like you and your body are not enough – regardless of your size or shape.

And it all seems perfectly normal, and is considered the way to take care of your “health.”

It’s a helluva business plan – keeping you coming back for another “hit of success” (= pounds lost) despite research showing you it’s temporary (unsustainable) for 95% of us. In fact, by 2023, the worldwide weight loss industry profits are expected to reach $278 billion.

Again, I repeat, it’s not your fault. It’s the culture we live, eat, move and breathe in and we’ve been passing these messages down for generations, thus keeping us stuck in:

The Vicious Body Hate/“Diet” Restrictive Eating Cycle:


START:
 You “feel” unhealthy, dislike your body, feel “fat”, and/or you’re told to lose weight for a variety of reasons.

RESTRICT: You choose one of the restrictive eating plans du jour. During this time, you may experience “feeling better” and/or losing weight but at some point either during, at the end of the 21 or 30 days, or months later when you’re trying to “sustain” it, you experience…

DEPRIVATION: the “diet/restriction” fatigue, backlash. This is when cravings kick in for certain types of foods (such as carbohydrates), “forbidden” foods (your favorite dessert) or you just feel hungry and simply want more food. Which leads to…

GUILT: You feel like you’ve “cheated,” “given in,” “fallen off the wagon” “don’t have the willpower” – you judge yourself as the failure, not the approach. You may regain weight, or for many of you who’ve been stuck in this cycle for years and years, even more weight than when you began. (Studies show that up two-thirds of us will regain more weight than lost).

💣TRUTH BOMB: Did you know that “diets” and restrictive eating can actually be the cause of perceived eating challenges such over-eating, intense cravings, bingeing and emotional eating? (Ironic, huh – as we often go to these plans to “fix” these “problems.”)

REPEAT: At some point (next year, next month) you begin again with another round of your “favorite” eating plan or you try a new one that promises you that you will be part of the 5% of people (the 🦄 unicorns) that can change your body size permanently – sustain it. Remember, we’re not all supposed to be the same size and that health and body weight are a complex subject (see my article ⬇️ to learn more).


The good news is that there’s a way out of this madness.

But I’ll be honest with you, it’s not a quick fix. But worth it – if you finally want to have a healthy relationship with food and feel good in your body.

What you can do instead:

  1. Re-educate yourself and learn more about how health can come in different sizes and shapes and how your health is impacted by many factors. ​That’s why I take a “deep health” coaching approach – when all dimensions of your wellbeing are in sync (physical, mental, emotional, relational, environmental and existential).To learn more, come on over to my blog and read: Size or shape doesn’t define your health
  2. Practice “true” self-care from this new space.

What if you could allow your body to be the size and shape it where its healthiest – when you’re nourishing it by listening to your hunger and fullness cues, being aware of which foods make you feel your best, moving in ways that bring you joy and living your best life? Don’t allow “diet culture” to be the life thief that it is – taking away your precious time, energy, health and happiness. Want to learn more about how you can learn to eat intuitively and take care of your health? Check out: Intuitive Eating: Do you need to relearn how to eat?

What to learn more about how “deep health” coaching can help you feel and be your best self? [](https://www.tanyamark.com/get-started)[Schedule a 20 minute consult](https://form.jotform.com/93306600537150) to chat with me.

I’d love to support you, Tanya

Balance Your Blood Sugar to Beat Cravings, Boost Your Metabolism, Energy and Mood

Having unbalanced blood sugar can lead to poor health because —- it’s so dang stressful on the body.

When you’re, day-in-day-out, eating meals that are “unbalanced” – this causes high blood sugar which eventually crashes, known as low blood sugar, and leads your body to try and boost it back up as quickly as it can.

And guess what foods your body craves?
Sugars and simple carbohydrates because they boost energy levels up quickly.

The great news is that you can get off the “blood sugar roller coaster” and boost your metabolism and energy levels, beat cravings and banish those bad moods.

Beat Blood Sugar Crashes in three easy steps

Blood sugar (glucose) is the fuel for every single cell in your body. Eating balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day is the most important thing we can do to keep our fuel supply stable. In order to know how to balance a meal, it is necessary to understand how different foods burn. I like to use a simple campfire analogy to explain this concept. Food burns a lot like a nice campfire.

Quality FATS…

are like the big log in the fire that burns for a long time. Fats are slow-burning fuels that help to stabilize blood sugar and allow you to go between meals without feeling so hungry. Fats also send a signal to your brain to tell you when you’re satisfied, so you know when to stop eating. This explains why people on low-fat diets are so hungry all the time. Eating fats at every meal helps to control your appetite. Good fats should be included with every meal.

Quality PROTEIN…

is like the teepee, which provides the support and structure for the campfire. Protein is the building block for every single cell in the body. It’s what the body uses to heal and repair. Protein also supplies the body with amino acids, which help to stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings for carbohydrates.

Quality CARBOHYDRATES…

are quick burning fuels, which are like the kindling in the campfire. Carbohydrates that are high in fiber like fruits, vegetables and whole grains burn a little slower, like little twigs. Carbohydrates like white bread, sugared cereals, candy, cakes, cookies, crackers, pasta, and bagels burn up more quickly, like leaves and paper.

What would happen if you threw a bunch of twigs, leaves, and paper in a pile and lit them on fire? You’d get a huge blaze and then it would burn out quickly. The same thing happens when you eat a meal of nothing but carbohydrates, even the quality natural ones like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

To keep your blood sugar stable, build a campfire at each meal.

  1. Start with your protein “teepee.”
  2. Add some carbohydrate (fiber) “kindling.”
  3. And include your fat “log” to keep your fire burning long and strong!

Here are four examples to get your started:

  • Breakfast: Steel cut oats with raw almonds, chia, flax and hemp seeds (to boost protein and fat) with berries and cinnamon.
  • Lunch: Grilled chicken sandwich (protein) on whole grain bread or mixed greens + veggies (carbohydrates) + avocado (fat).
  • Dinner: Salmon (protein), baked sweet potato + steamed broccoli (carbohydrates) topped with butter (fat).
  • Snack: Raw nuts with Apple (protein and fat in nuts, apple for carbohydrate).

Of course, it’s important to remember, there’s no need for perfection as healthy eating isn’t perfect eating. Instead ask yourself – am I building balanced meals for the most part? If so, I bet you’ll notice feeling like your energy lasts throughout the day!

If you need help creating campfires out of your favorite meals and snacks, reach out. I’d love to hear from you.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

Body acceptance is a radical act of self-love

Radical Acceptance is a new column focusing on promoting healthy body image and redefining health.

Amy Pence-Brown, a 39-year-old mother of three, is a body image activist internationally known for her radical stand for self-love at the Capitol City Public Market in 2015.

Pence-Brown stood blindfolded in a black bikini, with the following message written on a chalkboard placed at her feet, holding markers in her outstretched arms inviting the crowd to support her radical declaration of self-love.

“I am standing for anyone who has struggled with a self-esteem issue like me, because all bodies are valuable,” her sign read. “To support self-acceptance, draw a heart on my body.”

By the end of the display she was covered in marker, having been drawn on by young and old, men and women. Visit Amy Pence-Brown to watch the video.

Three years later over 200 million people have viewed this stand for radical body liberation making it one of the most viral videos of all time.

“This is powerful. This is humanity,” she said. “This is a revolution. I’m honored and blown wide open with hope.”

Amy’s “Stand For Self Love” changed me.

Her radical declaration of self-love cracked open something deep inside me. I felt our shared humanness. I, too, wanted to advocate for radical acceptance — of all bodies.

Professionally, I began to see a need for this work. As a former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, I held the false belief that if we exercised and ate well — the two magical pieces to health — we could achieve a fit and healthy body.

I was wrong.

I learned this after having hundreds of intimate conversations, often filled with tears and stress with Jacksonsites and clients around the country.

I started seeing bodies and health differently, with my eyes wide open. I started seeing myself differently.

I had made a career out of being healthy to look healthy. I took a critical look at my own body image. When I did, the worries, fears and shame that I felt about my body over the years flooded through. Now, as a 49-year old woman, I’ve added on another layer to my body image: aging.

I want to be clear about where I am at now professionally. As a mind-body nutritionist, I often have clients come to me seeking weight-loss help. Often they, like many of us, want to eat better to feel better, but the real hope is that eating the “right” foods will help us maintain or change our bodies.

But that’s not my focus. I help clients make peace and heal their relationships with food and their bodies. I help clients gain the crucial tools to achieve true health and well-being, not just the latest diet trend or body ideal.

It’s been three years since Pence-Brown’s video went viral, and I still think about it. I reached out to Amy for her wisdom on being a body image activist and radical Idahoan. When I mentioned this column, she was both excited yet surprised, in the best kind of way.

“I’ve had a lot of pushback against body positivity for years in the region, due to a long-supported fat-phobic culture with a severe dedication to healthism,” she told me.

Though her work has received positive national and international attention, regionally that has not been the case. She hopes to “pave the way to this slow opening of minds, hearts and eyes to the possibility that there might be a new way, a better way, to live and enjoy our bodies than we’ve been taught previously.”

Fat (and thin) Girls (and guys) Hiking

Body positivity activism recently made its way to our community.

This past week I attended one of two “Fat Girls Hiking, Trails Not Scales,” body positivity hikes in Jackson. Founder Summer Michaud-Skog set the ground rules: Hikers were to refrain from diet talk, body shaming or weight loss talk.

The focus was on enjoying the outdoors in whatever body you’re in. Our Jackson group was represented by different body shapes, sizes, genders and ages.

“We love getting outside as a family and exploring, teaching our kids to move their bodies, respect the earth and enjoy the outdoors,” said Stephanie Marie Martinez, who brought her entire family. “Also teaching them that body type doesn’t dictate what you can do in your life. Be it small children or fat adults.”

Elevating the conversation

I plan to provide new ideas and perspectives on how we see bodies and dive deeper into body image in Jackson and how we might redefine health and what healthy looks like.

I also want to be honest and up front; I am still learning to navigate body image myself. My intention isn’t to “fix” body image, self-confidence or self-esteem because we are not “broken.” My intention is to be of service to this community and News&Guide readers, to infuse our hearts and spirit with compassion, for ourselves and every body; to help us see our humanness and practice radical acceptance … of all bodies, no matter what your body size, shape, gender or age.

Our hearts are craving more — to be more than bodies.

“All bodies are good bodies, imperfect as we all are,” Pence-Brown said in an interview with People magazine. “Life is too short to go on hating yourself, so start loving yourself where you are right now.”

I stand with her and with you. Like yourself. Be a rebel.

Size or shape doesn’t define your health

Your body is not a billboard for your health. Your body is your home.” — Amy Pershing, founder of Bodywise

When we look at our health and bodies from this perspective, we can make room for self-compassion, tolerance and patience. Yet American culture focuses the lens on our physical appearance, convincing us that our health is defined by our size or shape. This is a distorted idea of health.

We need to zoom out. We need to widen the lens and look deeper into an evolved definition of health. We can’t assume someone’s health status, abilities or goals based on the size or shape of her body.

“Fit bodies don’t necessarily tell the story of a healthy person, nor do (larger) bodies tell the story of a lazy person,” wrote Erin Brown, an author for Girls Gone Strong, a body-positive health-and-fitness website focused on female empowerment. “You can’t know everything about a person’s behavior or life by simply looking at her body.”

No ideal shape or size

Healthism — a preoccupation with health as a primary achievement of well-being, as first defined by political economist Robert Crawford — emphasizes personal responsibility while ignoring important social determinants of health. In a world steeped in dieting culture and healthism, it can be assumed that many people have already been trying to change their eating habits (maybe for years), and their inability to sustain such changes has resulted in feelings of shame and self-doubt.

Thus, trying to maintain or attain a body that culture portrays as healthy may take us further away from health.

The truth: We’re not all meant to be some “ideal” size or shape. If we all ate exactly the same way and had identical exercise regiments we would still look vastly different from one another.

Body diversity is part of what makes us human.

“The body is our home, our temple. Just as everyone’s literal home looks different so does everyone’s body and that is something to be celebrated and respected,” local yogi Ariel Mann said. “If we can cultivate inner peace and a feeling of home within, then we can take that with us everywhere rather than looking to external sources to feel comfortable, welcome and at home.”

Widen the lens, redefine health

What does an evolved definition of health look like?

Health is mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It’s about nourishing your whole self, looking through a wider lens from a whole human being perspective, not just your physical body. It encourages us to honor our deepest self and empowers us to see our truth. Health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual.

And one thing that health doesn’t define? Your self-worth.

Factors that affect our health include: genetics, environment, life experiences, access to health care, socioeconomic status, culture, trauma, illness, age, community, education, social support, sleep, spirituality, stress level, stigma, self-esteem, safety, self-care routine, employment and job security, physical activity, mental health, relationship with food, body and self, individual thoughts, feelings, beliefs, happiness, relationships, connection, sense of purpose … you see where I’m going here.

So how can we honor true health?

One way is to speak our authentic truth, to tell our stories and to express our experiences as a human being. We often struggle to speak openly about what we are really experiencing in our lives and what’s really affecting our health. When we focus on weight, thinking we need to change the size and shape of our body, our lens focuses on food and exercise — a very narrow view.

When we widen the lens we see all the things that impact health.

Perhaps you’ve been through a divorce. Maybe you’ve experienced an illness, injury, death in the family or a traumatic life experience. Yet somehow your body is the problem? We need to reinforce the complexity of the human experience instead of reinforcing health as the pinnacle of success and happiness.

Last month I read an article in The New York Times, “Why Your Cardiologist Should Ask Your About Your Love Life,” in which cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar describes research suggesting diet and exercise alone are not enough to roll back heart disease.

“It is increasingly clear that our hearts are sensitive to our emotional system — to the metaphorical heart, if you will. Doctors like myself are trained to think of the heart as a machine that we can manipulate with the tools of modern medicine,” Jauhar wrote. “Those manipulations, however, must be accompanied by greater attention to the emotional life that the heart, for so many years, was believed to contain.”

But what are we told by experts to do when our health is poor? Exercise more. Eat better.

While certainly these can be healthy strategies, we need to look at our health from a whole human being perspective. It’s time for a paradigm shift for health. Let’s widen the focus of the lens and see ourselves as more than our physical bodies.

You can decide what health means to you. Redefine health.

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

(This article was published in the October 31, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

‘Fit and ripped’ male ideal breeds body image misery

Fit. Lean. Ripped. Strong.

Men use those powerfully masculine words to describe the “ideal” male, which many Jackson Hole, Wyoming men feel is expected as the norm in our fit-centric mountain town.

Masculine, as defined by Google, is “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness: muscular, well built, brawny, shredded.”

Yet many men struggle with worries about their appearance, trying to maintain or attain that “perfect” masculine body type.

Here’s what I heard from men in an anonymous body image survey I shared online last month:

“I have always been insecure with my body even when I was 25 years old and 7% body fat. I still felt fat and unattractive with my shirt off.”

“Age is starting to catch up with me even though I don’t want to admit it.”

“Hate it. Can’t lose weight no matter what I do. I’m on Weight Watchers for the second time.”

“In my late 30s, when I stopped competitive sports, I realized that all of a sudden I developed a gut.”

“I’m starting to get a double chin and my jeans are getting tighter around the waist.”

“I hate my love handles and feel like I have man boobs.”

“I need to lose weight in the mid-section.”

Clearly many men suffer from body anxiety.

The effects of male body dissatisfaction

“Men worry about their appearance more than they worry about their health, their family, their relationships or professional success,” according to a 2014 Today/AOL body image survey. “Only finances topped looks, with 59 percent of men worrying about money weekly.”

• 63 percent of guys said they “always feel like (they) could lose weight

• 53 percent don’t like having their picture taken

• 41 percent said they worry that people judge their appearance

• 44 percent feel uncomfortable wearing swim trunks

Unspoken anxiety

Let’s dig deeper into male body image anxieties and the harm they’re causing, why it’s not discussed, toxic masculinity and, finally, why we need to work together to redefine healthy for men as well as male body image.

“As is the case for women, men’s body dissatisfaction has been linked to health consequences, including excessive exercise, eating pathology, steroid use, depression and low self-esteem,” wrote Elliot Montgomery Sklar in his study “Body Image, Weight, and Self-Concept in Men.”

The men in my recent survey agree:

“My body dissatisfaction affects my emotional wellbeing. I feel self-conscious, even if I know nobody cares.”

“I exercise obsessively and have for 25-plus years and have had weird ‘diets.’”

Even though we rarely hear about male body image challenges, they are affecting men’s health. Furthermore, men have been taught that it’s not OK to talk about their bodies. Or, as one local guy said, “We’re not allowed to talk about our feelings about anything.”

Men feel that expressing themselves and being vulnerable is weakness, which is the opposite of the words used to define masculinity and an ideal male body image. That is part of toxic masculinity.

And when men do talk about their bodies it’s quickly brushed aside.

“Dude, I feel fat.” Met with, “Oh, you’re not fat,” or “You just need to get in the gym more and stop drinking so much beer.”

But that’s the extent of the body conversation for men. There’s no discussion of the real emotion they’re feeling, as fat is not a feeling.

According to researcher Sarah Grogan in her study “Body Image: Focus Groups with Boys and Men,” “Men linked being fat with ‘weakness of will,’” while being lean and muscular was associated with “feelings of confidence and power in social situations.”

More than muscles

And male body image isn’t just about muscle. It includes male anxieties about balding or receding hairlines, too much body hair and being considered short for a man.

“It shouldn’t be extraordinary for men to talk about their bodies,” Huffington Post reporter Tyler Kingkade wrote in the article “I’m a Man, and I’ve Spent My Life Ashamed of My Body.” “We shouldn’t need a goofy term like ‘dad bod’ to admit we aren’t in perfect shape.”

Though the ideal body type may be more commonly seen in athletic Jackson Hole, Wyoming – many of our men, particularly as they grow older, find it increasingly difficult to attain or maintain. Just as life shifts and changes, so do bodies.

Becoming a husband and father, dealing with financial and career pressure, coping with injuries and other responsibilities may take up more time, making less available for exercise or recreating — the main “go-to” to be physically in “good” shape.

But health isn’t as simple as “eat this, not that, exercise more,” which is where most men focus. Health is multifaceted. It’s particularly important for our men and boys to embrace a broader definition of health beyond having a certain masculine aesthetic and to openly discuss how they feel, to include their mental and emotional health.

A healthy body image for all

Together we can redefine a healthy male body image because it’s important for all bodies to be radically accepted.

To do so, we must be mindful of the language we use to describe any body.

“It doesn’t somehow balance the scales for us to ridicule men for being short or tall or bald or too hairy or overweight or too scrawny or any other bullshit social stereotype of masculinity,” wrote Liz Pardue-Schultz in her article “All this body positivity is total BS if we’re still body-shaming men.

“Insulting a male body is just as problematic as belittling a female’s,” she wrote. “Mocking men who don’t fit some arbitrary assumed ideal of ‘perfection’ is not only insulting to both sides, it’s holding us back from escaping these superficial paradigms that keep us miserable with ourselves and each other.”

We’re in this together.

“I bare an incredible amount of respect and admiration for the movement women have created in the direction of love for all shapes and sizes, from plus-size models to the beauty of stretch marks, wrote Euan Findlay in the article “We Need to Talk About the Male Body.” “I want to ask, on this journey women are taking towards self-love, that you take us men with you.”

Men, you’re invited. You don’t need to be “fit, lean, ripped, strong” to be considered a healthy and worthy man.

And the men in my survey feel the same way.

Here’s what the advice they wanted to share with the younger generation about being a healthy male:

“Accept who you are. We all have different body types.”

“Moderation is probably best. Life is short, don’t deprive yourself, develop healthy habits but be reasonable.”

“Surround yourself with good people, good things, and … eat well and exercise.”

“Don’t sweat it. Have fun. Take care of your health, but don’t worry yourself sick over it.”

Let’s openly discuss and redefine healthy male body image. When we live and teach an elevated definition of health, no matter what our gender, all human bodies benefit. This is radical acceptance.

(This article was published in the July 10, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Wellness has become another word for diet

“No one is going to stand up at your funeral and say, ‘She had a small waist and a great thigh gap.’”

—Ailey Jolie, registered clinical counselor

As a woman, former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, that could have been how I was remembered. My identity was health and wellness. And my professional success, for the most part, used to be measured in pounds and inches lost.

After years of working in the fitness and nutrition fields, I saw the harm the “wellness industry” was perpetuating and my part in it. I felt dishonest teaching that you could have the “healthy” body you desired if you just ate well and exercised more. We are not here on planet earth to spend a heartbreaking amount of time, resources and energy trying to mold our bodies.

That wasn’t the legacy that I wanted to leave behind for future generations.

Trending toward moralistic

“At its core, ‘wellness’ is about weight loss,” author Jessica Knoll wrote in “Smash the Wellness Industry,” an opinion piece printed in the June 8 New York Times. “It demonizes calorically dense and delicious foods, preserving a vicious fallacy: Thin is healthy and healthy is thin.”

Even smart, successful women have fallen prey to weight loss disguised as wellness, Knoll noted. She described a recent lunch with her friends during which they struggled to order off the menu: One was eliminating dairy to lose weight, another was trying to be “good.” And they were all picking apart their perceived flaws: excess body fat, cellulite, post-baby weight. She wondered what the men at the next table were talking about.

I doubt it was weight loss.

Health has become fear-based and moralistic — good, bad, clean, dirty. We believe we must worry about every morsel as if we’re just one bite away from disease. And for many, exercise is a “should,” though at times rest may be the best form of self-care.

How do you determine if a behavior is truly healthful? Simply put, if self-care is creating stress, it’s not self-care. Chronic stress is worse for our health than anything we eat or any workout we skip.

Different word, same diet

Your body at its healthiest and fittest may not look the way you hoped or were led to believe it would. As Beauty Redefined, a nonprofit promoting body image resilience, wrote in a recent Instagram post: “We must learn to separate cultural outward body ideals like thinness from our health and fitness pursuits.”

Although the language we hear every day has shifted away from weight loss to healthy behaviors, the underlying goal of the diet industry disguised as wellness remains: Pounds lost equals success.

Take Weight Watchers, for example, which in September 2018 rebranded to WW with an attempt to redefine the acronym as “Wellness Wins,” a move to “reimagine” the program. But examine the company’s messaging on its Instagram:

“What sweet treats do you save your SmartPoints for?”

“Raise your hand if your scale is always wrong on Mondays”? Laughing emoji.

“Seeking: SmartPoints refund for food that didn’t taste as good as it looked.”

“Me: How you feel is as important as how much you weigh. Also me: Removes dangly earrings before stepping on the scale.” Laughing emoji.

What struck me most was how frequently the laughing emoji is used, a move that seemingly makes light of our perceived food and body failures and preoccupation with the scale and food.

How we feel about our bodies is no joke. I have a well-used tissue box in my office to prove it.

We don’t need more of the same, no matter what it is named. We need honest messaging that frees us from a war with ourselves, that frees us from believing that we even need to start our week out by stepping on a scale.

Your values, your life

Getting clear on your personal values is the start of creating space for a meaningful and impactful life. I love to use value cards, which present 80-plus values sorted into three piles: very important, important and not important.

Once you’ve determined your top five values, go live them. Let these values guide your daily decisions. Let them take up space in your mind that you once dedicated to dieting and weight loss.

To further put things into perspective, I’d like you to answer three profound questions asked by author Martha Beck:

“How much did Florence Nightingale weigh when she founded modern nursing? How much did Rosa Parks weigh when she took a seat on that bus? How much did Malala Yousafzai weigh when she started writing about the lives of girls in Pakistan living under Taliban rule?

“You don’t know? That’s the right answer. Because it doesn’t matter.”

Right on, Martha.

That is the legacy I want to leave behind.

If you, too, find yourself stuck in the toxic messages of the “wellness” industry and it’s distracting you from living fully into your personal values, take heed of this powerful message from News & Guide Deputy Editor Melissa Cassutt:

“I read obituaries for a living, and weight has been mentioned in exactly zero. I never even see beautiful or handsome used. What families and friends often remember is how a person made them feel.”

Don’t allow the diet industry disguised as wellness define your health. Know your values, focus on them, and take care of your whole self. You will be remembered for how you made others feel, not for the size of your waist or thighs.

And that is truly the most beautiful thing about you.

(This article was published in the August 21, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Say ‘No Weigh” to the Scale

“You can live the rest of your life without knowing how much you weigh.”

Does that sound radical and maybe even unfathomable?

The statement comes from registered dietitian Christina Frangione, who suggests we all can say “no weigh” to measuring your health with diet culture’s ruler: the scale.

While we may believe health is manipulating our bodies to an “ideal” weight and maintain that weight throughout our lifetimes, that belief is false. In fact, it’s making many of us less healthy.

Created by the $72 billion dollar diet industry, healthy-as-thin has infiltrated the nutrition and fitness industries, duping far too many of us into a lifetime filled with food preoccupation, exercise obsession and body dissatisfaction.

Does that sound healthy?

‘Ideal’ weight is a fallacy

As a culture we are obsessed with the number on the scale and the belief that we have an “ideal” weight.

You know, that number — the number you weighed when you were 22, pre-baby, on the ski racing team, when you were restricting gluten, dairy, sugar on your 21-day detox, after your fitness contest. Or maybe that number is simply one you’ve been told you should attain but have never weighed.

We get that one number stuck in our heads and believe we can’t like our bodies or be happy and healthy until the scale sings it. Whatever pops up on the scale sparks joy or utter despair, all in a matter of seconds.

Again, that’s not healthy.

As a body image and redefining wellness ambassador, I must remind you that weight doesn’t necessarily indicate your best health because bodies are born different sizes and shapes.

Some bodies are naturally small, and others are naturally big. Small bodies may be healthy or unhealthy. Big bodies may be healthy or unhealthy. Every body is different.

It’s understandable that we focus on scale weight, as that’s all we’ve ever been taught: Lose weight, get healthier.

But that’s not the case for every body. For some, attaining and maintaining a thin body comes with relative ease. If you’re thin or have lost weight and kept it off by honoring your body’s needs, that’s wonderful. But it doesn’t mean every body can do it.

As a former “eat this, not that” nutrition coach and fitness professional, I had that false belief because, frankly, I live in a body that’s naturally thin.

But for many, focusing on attaining an “ideal” weight is a full-time job and a struggle. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to force your body into a size it was never meant to be. In many cases, it can’t be done.

You are not failure when that happens. It’s diet culture that’s failing you.

If you need to maintain a strict eating and exercise regime to maintain your “ideal” weight, that’s not a healthy weight for you. We normalize restrictive eating and obsessive exercise and call it healthy. It’s not.

Perhaps you do attain your goal weight. At what cost, and is it sustainable? For most, that “success” is fleeting, leading us into a life of yo-yo dieting and a desperate hunt for the next eating and exercise plan promising to fix our bodies.

Even more distressing, when you focus solely on an “ideal” weight and see little to no change, you may give up on healthy behaviors despite dramatic improvements in health markers, like improved cholesterol, blood sugar and cardiovascular health.

And, finally, diet culture doesn’t tell you that your body is meant to change naturally throughout life’s stages. As a 52-year old post-menopausal woman, my body weight and shape has shifted. Scale numbers will fluctuate daily and throughout your lifetime.

But I have to lose weight

I can hear you pushing back: “But what if I am trying to lose weight for my health, not my appearance?”

You’re told to lose weight as the sole solution to having health challenges such as diabetes, thyroid conditions, knee pain.

People in thin bodies have those health problems too. But only people in heavier bodies are told to lose weight to solve them.

As a mind-body-nutrition coach I have respect for every body, regardless of weight. Together we focus on the healthy behaviors that your unique whole body needs, and we allow your weight to be where you feel nourished, not punished or controlled.

Don’t worry: Not focusing on weight loss doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your body or your health. It means that you are prioritizing whole health and feeling good over a number on the scale. It means that you are enhancing your overall health by freeing up precious time and energy — mental, emotional and physical.

So if you’re not focusing on scale weight, then what?

Listen and nourish

“When weight loss is the goal,” intuitive eating counselor Krista Murias said, “depriving and restricting the body become more important than listening to and nourishing it.”

Listen to your body. Diet culture has convinced us to tune out.

Stop forcing yourself to eat kale if you hate it. Stop forcing yourself to trot in the Turkey Day 5K to “earn” your holiday dinner. As clinical psychologist Dr. Coleen Reichman said: “Sometimes it’s healthier to skip the workout. Your soul probably needs more attention than your glutes today.”

Focus on healthy behaviors, not the number on scale. When you do, you can let the weight stigma against yourself go and finally find real freedom and intuition with food and fitness to live your best life.

Be a rebel. Dump your scale.

Listen. Your body is talking

In addition to truly healthful behaviors like intuitive eating and pursuing movement that makes you feel good, listen for your other needs like:

• more sleep

• counseling

• meditation

• a job change

• saying no unless it’s a, “hell yes!”

• more frequent vacations

• learning to communicate more effectively

• connecting with your partner

(This article was published in the November 13, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Try this New Year’s resolution: Ditch the Diet

This is the season when holiday festivities — and “diet talk” — are in full swing.

“I feel so fat.”

“Just skip lunch so you can indulge tonight.”

“I’ll burn 500 calories at the gym to earn my food.”

“I’m bringing the gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free cheesecake” … despite having no medical reason to and, if we’re honest, you really prefer the real thing.

And the most common diet talk: “Oh, screw it, I’m going to eat whatever I want. I’ve already lost control over my holiday eating. I’ll just ‘be good’ on Whole 30, Paleo, Keto (whatever) beginning next week.”

The language we use transitions from indulging in December to restricting in January.

Even though we’ve heard that diets don’t work, we continue to pursue them year after year.

Why? Because diets do “work,” just not long term.

We continue to be enticed by diet culture promises because most of us do lose weight, experience health improvements and feel better on a diet, albeit, more often than not, temporarily.

“It is well established that dieters are able to lose weight in the short run, but tend to regain it back over time,” said Traci Mann, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of “Secrets from the Eating Lab.”

Thus, for many of us, dieting could be part of the “health epidemic problem” instead of the solution.

This “obsession with thinness is driving us crazy,” said Glenn Mackintosh, principle psychologist at Weight Management Psychology. “And the only tangible result most of us see from endlessly battling our bodies is the number on the scales rising over time. Even the few who achieve the ‘ideal’ aren’t immune to the madness and live in fear of weight gain.”

And don’t be fooled into thinking your next food plan or “watching what you eat” in the name of health isn’t just a diet in disguise. To diet, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is to “restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.”

As we start a new decade, give yourself a long-lasting gift: a way out of diet culture and its defining, controlling characteristics of willpower and restriction. Reliance on these strategies is why diets don’t really work.

Willpower is not the problem

Do you rely on willpower to be “good” and avoid the refined sugar dessert but end up sneaking back into the kitchen for a slice?

Do you opt for a “healthified” version of dessert but find yourself full but still dissatisfied?

Or do you white-knuckle it to avoid carbohydrates all day and then crave them and feel out of control to the point where you overeat them at night?

Resisting your favorite foods lasts only so long. Why?

First, it’s not because you are a willpower weakling.

We don’t have an endless supply of willpower, defined as restraint or self-control. It’s limited. We start with a full tank of willpower in the morning and then use it up throughout the day making decisions and choices. Notice when we usually give in: later in the afternoon and evening, or on the weekends after a week of being “good.”

And what are you using willpower for? To restrict “forbidden” foods.

Nothing amplifies a craving like restriction.

It’s human nature to want something even more when we’re told we can’t have it, said Barbara J. Rolls, Guthrie chair of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, in a2018 article in Shape magazine.

It feels like self-punishment. Restriction just says “No, you can’t have it, or just one.”

Perhaps you label yourself “addicted” to sugar but wonder why the plate of holiday cookies on the kitchen counter just isn’t a big deal for your husband?

He eats some. And moves on. It seems unfair.

“Non-dieters’ brains seem to remain relatively unfazed by sugar,” Christy Harrison, registered dietitian nutritionist, wrote in her New York Times article, “Go Ahead. Eat Your Holiday Feelings.”

Little evidence is found to support sugar addiction in humans, researchers Westwater, Fletcher and Ziauddeen’s found in their study “Sugar Addiction: The State of the Science.”It appears that the bingeing, the addictive-like behavior, occurred due to intermittent access to sugar.

Restriction breeds obsession.

Still not convinced that restriction isn’t the way to wellness?

Let’s look at the Minnesota Starvation Experiment of 1945, a study of the physical and psychological effects of prolonged semi starvation on healthy men and how to rehabilitate them.

Conducted by the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota, the study illuminated the problem with restrictive eating.

Researchers selected 36 men who were deemed in good physical and mental health for a nearly yearlong study that was broken into four parts. The first three months the men were fed a normal diet of 3,200 calories, and the next six months they were fed a semi starvation diet of 1,570 calories; During the next three months, the rehabilitation phase, the men were fed between 2,000 and 3,200 calories, and in the last eight weeks they were given unrestricted access to food.

What did the researchers learn by measuring the physiological and psychological changes?

Mainly, the men became obsessed with food.

They fantasized about food and read cookbooks and looked up recipes. Their lives became food-centered. They reported feeling depressed, fatigued, irritable and apathetic on a 1,500-calorie diet. A few men sneaked food and were removed from the study … because they failed.

Sound familiar?

It’s how we feel and act after a few weeks on a diet, yet we still engage in restrictive eating 75 years later.

Upon Googling 1,500 calorie diets, I found a list of current nutritionist-designed programs touting the benefit of such a program, though we know that semi-starvation — the class which this was labeled in the study — doesn’t work.

Food deprivation, no matter how diet culture labels it, is distressing. Period.

So when your friends, family members and social media influencers engage in diet talk, trying to convince you to jump on the latest “healthy eating plan,” my No. 1 tip is: Don’t.

If no diet, then what?

In the second part of this two-part topic, Tanya Mark offers ideas for readers interested in becoming a diet dropout — but are unsure what to do next.

(This article was first published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, December 31, 2019 addition).